What do we share in common? Who is the “we” in “We the people”? How can we reimagine wealth and come together for common good?
Commonwealth explored these questions, and how our common resources are used to influence the wealth and well-being of our communities. Commonwealth was the outgrowth of a multiyear partnership between the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (ICA at VCU) in Richmond, Virginia; Philadelphia Contemporary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Beta-Local in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The project explored the historical concept of “commonwealth” and its legacy in each of the three locations. It asked whether it is possible to unleash the collective power embedded in that term while recognizing its connection to exploitation and colonialism. The question of how people understand common wealth, and the tension between individual choice and collective wellbeing, became all the more relevant in 2020, a year that began with earthquakes in Puerto Rico and continued with the historic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Starting in 2018, the curatorial team met in their respective cities to formulate a collaborative project. In 2019, through community processes in each city, the team explored the meaning of commonwealth. The project was initially intended to be an exhibition in three cities but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project changed. The two physical manifestations of Commonwealth included a banner project by a local community council and a billboard by Firelei Baez in Philadelphia (October 15, 2020-January 10, 2021), and an exhibition of commissioned works at the ICA (September 12, 2020 – January 10, 2021). In addition, there was a digital publication and online public programs. This physical publication is an archive of this project.
Commonwealth was organized and curated by Pablo Guardiola, Michael Linares, nibia pastrana santiago, Sofía Gallisá Muriente; Stephanie Smith, Noah Simblist, Kerry Bickford, Nicole Pollard, and Nato Thompson.